The message was clear Sunday afternoon at Thompson-Boling Arena: Tennessee has Georgia on its mind.
“We’ve got to be special.’’
The Vols (11-6, 1-2 SEC) play the Bulldogs (13-3, 2-1) in Athens at 7 p.m. Tuesday (TV: ESPNU).
Pearl will travel with the team to Georgia tonight, but he won’t be allowed to have dealings with his players until one hour after the game is completed as he serves the fourth game of his eight-game SEC suspension.
UT’s trip to Georgia last season resulted in a 78-63 loss.
“I remember they had quite a few highlights,’’ said Vols junior Cameron Tatum, one of four Georgia products on the Tennessee team. “They got into us early.’’
UT junior Scotty Hopson remembers the Vols were their own worst enemy.
“They scored a lot of baskets in transition,’’ Hopson said. “We missed a lot of shots.’’
The Bulldogs feature two projected first-round NBA draft picks in power forward Trey Thompkins and wing Travis Leslie. Point guard Gerald Robinson averages 13.9 points and 4.4 assists per game — second in the SEC.
“I told the team when we huddled up today, we can’t relax,’’ Hopson said. “Winning that one (Vanderbilt) game is not going to get us to the SEC championship.
“We have to keep playing like our backs are to the wall.
UT senior center Brian Williams said that’s just a fact.
“If we win this game, we might be in first in the (SEC) East,’’ Williams said. “But if we lose it, we’re still in last.’’
Pearl said it’s a great opportunity for his team to send a message.
“We’re trying to win the SEC,’’ Pearl said. “We’re not just trying to survive.’’
Georgia Is Ready: Hopson said he received a text message from Leslie, who he has known since the two played against one another on the AAU circuit.
“He said they’re going to be ready for us,’’ Hopson said. “I sent him one back saying we’re going to be ready, too.’’
Hopson said he hopes to draw the assignment of guarding Leslie and maintain his defensive momentum after keeping Vanderbilt’s Jeffery Taylor in check in the Vols’ 67-64 win over the Commodores on Saturday in Knoxville.
Top 25 RPI: The Vols rank No. 25 in the RPI rankings with a schedule strength that is No. 1 in the nation, according to RealTimeRPI.com.
Kentucky is No. 10 in the RPI rankings with a schedule strength of 19; Florida is No. 16 in the RPI with the No. 7 schedule strength; Vanderbilt is No. 24 in the RPI with a schedule strength of 34.
Scoring Scotty: Hopson has scored 15 or more points in seven consecutive games.
Two-Minute Drill: The Vols outscored Vanderbilt 7-0 at the end of the first half and 6-0 at the end of the second half.
Welcome GameDay: UT now is 3-1 playing before the ESPN College GameDay crew.